On this night, the doubters, the nonbelievers and the naysayers, who questioned the Mariners’ place in the league and any possible future success, were silenced. There likely won’t be another night quite like this where so many players with legitimate question marks about their place in the Major League Baseball landscape going into this season and beyond will contribute in such a collaborative fashion to secure a win
Then again, it wouldn’t be difficult for a scout to go down the Mariners’ roster and find the possibility of failure for nearly every player.
But it was noticeable in the Mariners’ 4-0 victory over the Giants, which gave them a series win to start the season, that the players most responsible for the success all fit that description in some way.
“Any time you throw a shutout in this league a lot of good things happen on the mound,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said.
It started with the starting pitcher, Chris Flexen. The right-hander washed out of Major League Baseball after the 2019 season following three unimpressive seasons shuttling between the Mets and their Triple-A affiliate. He was out of shape, ineffective and lacking in confidence. It took him to the Korean Baseball Organization where he got his mind and body in proper shape, which included losing 40 pounds, re-found his curveball, improved his cutter and pitched real success, which led to confidence.
Still, when the Mariners signed him early in the offseason to a two-year contract and locked him into a spot in the six-man rotation, the collective reaction was, “Who the hell is Chris Flexen?” and “Why didn’t the Mariners sign a real pitcher?”
In his first MLB start since April 20, 2019, he pitched five shutout innings, allowing four hits with two walks and four strikeouts. Showing a mix of four pitches, he worked out of trouble in a couple situations and when his cutter and changeup felt off upon release.
“It’s trust and confidence,” he said. “It’s knowing that it’s still going to be there. There are going to be innings where you’re gonna lose that feel, but it’s about getting back to that feel and trusting your stuff. I know those secondary pitches are huge pitches for me. I know I need them throughout outings, and I’m not gonna shy away from them and be afraid of throwing them.”
His last appearance in a MLB game was August 24, 2019. And his last win?
“To be honest, I can’t tell you anything about my last big league win,” Flexen said. “I don’t remember much about it.”
For the record, Flexen’s last win came on August 23, 2017, when he pitched six innings, allowing two runs on four hits with four walks and five strikeouts against the Diamondbacks. Given his path back to the big leagues, he’s certain to remember this night.
“I was definitely nervous being back out there but in a good way,” he said. “I was very excited. Something I’ve done in the past is bottle up too much, and I really just tried to embrace everything tonight, trust myself and go out and compete and have fun. To start off the year with a win and for us to start off the year winning a series, it’s pretty awesome.”
And two of the pitchers that made sure it remained a shutout? Well, one is a former starting pitcher, who would still be starting if not for a benign bone tumor in his neck that leaves him in agony if he pitches more than a few innings. The other is a diminutive right-hander, who was mediocre as a starter, found success as a reliever and was acquired to be the closer after notching all of eight saves last season for the Rangers.
In his first appearance of the season, Kendall Graveman was absolutely dominant in relief of Flexen. With his sinking fastball sitting at 97-98 mph and touching 99 mph and an improved slider that he worked on all offseason and all spring, Graveman tossed two shutout innings, striking out the side in the sixth and striking out two of three batters he faced in the seventh. The only runner allowed was a hit by pitch.
“Gravey was just unbelievable,” Servais said. “The stuff was awesome. He was phenomenal. Six big outs from him.”
Closer Rafael Montero, who allowed a game-tying homer on opening night, entered the game with two outs in the eighth inning to clean up a minor mess made by Anthony Misiewicz. With the help of a nice play J.P. Crawford on a tough short-hop ground ball, Montero ended the threat. And with an on-field demeanor that could be considered cadaverous, he coolly notched his first save of the season with a 1-2-3 ninth.
“Monty is a pretty calm,” Servais said. “He’s a pretty cool customer out there. He’s got real weapons. He’s got starting pitcher-type weapons. You can see the good velocity, good changeup and really good slider.”
Oh, and the offense needed to win?
Well that was provided by a stocky disciple of Tony Gwynn that doesn’t seem to have a defensive position, three doubles from players that have exhibited only flashes of MLB success and another guy who missed 660 days of baseball due to injuries and three surgeries.
In the third inning, Ty France, whose best position should be labeled as hitter and his best defensive position is probably designated hitter, smashed a solo homer to left field off Giants starter Logan Webb.
In the fourth inning, Evan White, he of the sub .200 batting average and 40% strikeout rate in 2020, led off the inning with a double to left. He would score when Taylor Trammell, a former first-round pick of the Reds, now playing in his third organization, came through with the first hit of his MLB career — a sizzling line drive to the gap in right-center that scored White with ease.
Trammell would score when Dylan Moore, who was signed as utility player to MLB contract last offseason despite never playing in the big leagues and hit his way into a starting job in a 30-game sample in 2020, followed with a double to left.
“Offensively, we are starting to come around,” Servais said. “Nice to see Trammell get that first hit out of the way and hopefully he can relax and get into his game a little bit more.”
The final run for the Mariners came when Mitch Haniger clobbered a solo homer in the seventh inning.
“It felt really good,” he said. “I’ve been waiting for it. I feel like I’ve been driving the ball really well, and that one felt good.”
Haniger’s journey back to the field is well documented following a gruesome testicular injury suffered on June 6, 2019. His last MLB homer was two days before that. In his three games back, he’s offering a reminder of just how good he can be when he’s healthy.
“He’s heck of a player,” Servais said. “So excited to have him back. We got to keep him healthy. So you will see him get some days off here periodically as we move through the early part of the season.”